A large number of Trump supporters seem to be genuinely confused about why liberals are suddenly so angry with the election of their champion, one Donald J. Trump. They’re all like, “our guy won, your gal lost, the election is done, get over it.”
But we’re not going to get over it, not anytime soon. What the right has done in electing Trump is to galvanize the left, and that will have consequences all across the political spectrum. As the old saying goes, “be careful what you wish for.” They wished for Trump, and now they’ve got him. But there will be consequences, and many of our right-wing friends and Trump supporters are not going to like the consequences.
What is Different about the Election of Obama and the Election of Trump?
When Barack Obama was running for President in 2008, he was about the least offensive black man in the United States at the time. Heck, Obama isn’t even a black man: he’s mixed race. He shouldn’t be called the first black President of the United States; properly he should be called the first mixed-race President of the United States.
Obama was known for being chill throughout his campaign. When the Reverend Wright controversy erupted, Obama gave an incredibly thoughtful and measured speech on race about which Jon Stewart said at the time, “he talked to us about race as if we were adults.” Obama was all about “hope and change.” He did not engage in personal attacks on George W. Bush, or on John McCain – and to his credit, John McCain also did not engage in personal attacks on Obama.
From the moment that Obama walked into the White House in January of 2009, he was met with complete resistance from the other side of the aisle. All his initial attempts to work with the Republicans were rebuffed, and this refusal was formalized when incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell publicly declared that his #1 priority would be to assure that Obama would become a one-term president.
On the Affordable Care Act, Obama tried hard to include the Republicans in the negotiations, but they refused to participate (even though the central idea in the act – the individual mandate – was a proposal that came out of the conservative Heritage Institute). Obama tried to get a few moderate Republicans, like Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, both of Maine, to cross party lines. They considered it, but in the end neither acceded. And so it went.
The right has carped incessantly about how Obama supposedly made Washington more partisan, but after years of being stonewalled by the Republicans, Obama simply gave up. The supposedly “illegal” executive orders that Obama signed reflected the fact that no amount of effort was going to bring the Republicans into a negotiation on the items in Obama’s agenda.
The Republicans, and especially their Teaparty wing, then engaged in political brinksmanship by twice refusing to raise the debt ceiling – which is like refusing to raise the debt limit on a credit card after the money has already been spent – thereby risking a catastrophic default on credit of the United States.
As with so many things, the notion that Obama is at fault for the partisan divide is a false narrative. It’s clear that by any objective measure, the primary fault for that divide is the Republicans, and in particular the Teaparty.
Now let’s look at how Donald Trump has run for President. He literally kicked of his campaign by accusing all Mexican immigrant men of being “rapists,” with the slight conciliation that he assumed “some were good people.” And it went straight downhill from there. His brash, take no prisoners style immediately appealed to large masses of enraged Americans, who rhapsodized that somebody was “finally saying what they were thinking.” This was so intoxicating to large numbers of conservative voters, that in January of 2016 Trump declared, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot people and I wouldn’t lose voters.” Thereafter Trump called former POW and war hero John McCain a “loser” for letting himself get captured; got into a Twitter war with the Gold Star Family of Khizr and Ghazala Khan; got into another Twitter war with former Ms. Universe Alicia Machado; mocked a disabled reporter; encouraged violence against protestors at his rallies (and offered to pay the legal bills of supporters who assaulted protestors); suggested that 2nd Amendment supporters should do in Hillary Clinton; and further threatened Hillary with a special prosecutor, promising to throw her in jail. Eventually the Billy Bush bus tape came out, and when 10 women came forward accusing them of sexual assault, he threatened to sue each and every one of them for slander. All of this was cheered on by his supporters.
So, Barack Obama was the least provocative black man in America when he ran for President; Donald Trump has been the most provocative presidential candidate in the history of the country. There’s your comparison.
Rage Ignited and Misdirected
Why are so many Americans on the conservative side of the spectrum so enraged these days? Consider: the left may have won the culture wars, but the right has definitely won the economic wars. Tax rates are much lower than they used to be, corporations are much more profitable than they used to be, banks are much more powerful than they used to be (and are in fact, “too big to fail“). That is the Republican economic agenda, and a good portion of it was enacted by Bill Clinton.
That economic agenda hasn’t helped the common man much. Especially the working class and blue collar types out in middle America, or the “real” America (as they like to think of themselves as). Jobs have moved off-shore, the minimum wage has stayed stagnant, and the lion’s share of the recovery went to the wealthy or the very wealthy. But these are the consequences of the Republican economic agenda. The big business, Chamber-of-Commerce Republican economic agenda.
Of course, middle America does not blame their misfortune on their own party’s economic agenda. They blame welfare cheats and those who have been “cutting in line.” As I wrote about recently, Arlie Russell Hochschild has authored a fascinating book about Teaparty conservatives in Louisiana, and how much they feel that minorities and immigrants have been “cutting in line” on them as they seek out the American dream.
I have empathy for those feelings. I have empathy for their economic misfortune and I have empathy for their feeling that others are cutting in line on them. What I don’t have empathy for is their insistence on blaming the people who are not contributing to their economic misery while completely exonerating the institutions that are.
Again, why are these middle Americans so enraged? The answer – the one I have been repeating over and over again like a broken record – is that they’ve been fed a steady stream of hateful propaganda from Fox News and right wing talk radio.
Why do Jobs Move Overseas?
Consider the question of why jobs move overseas. The formula is actually pretty simple: they move overseas when the costs of labor, raw materials and transportation here at home exceed the costs of manufacturing overseas. That’s why jobs move out of the country. This is the way the capitalist system works – the same system that all these Teaparty types supposedly love so much.
The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is not the cause of that movement. These jobs would move to Mexico anyway – or to Vietnam, or the Philippines, or Bangla Desh. What NAFTA does is make the transition a little bit easier. NAFTA is mostly concerned with the enforcement of intellectual property rights, and with harmonizing regulations related to agriculture and the environment.
Donald Trump keeps telling us that NAFTA is a “terrible deal,” but he has never once explained what is so terrible about it. What, exactly, are the provisions of NAFTA that he objects to? How would changing those provisions keep jobs from moving overseas? This, as with so many other things, is something that the Donald has never explained.
Why the Voting Against Interest?
Commentators like Thomas Frank (What’s the Matter with Kansas) and Joe Bageant (Deer Hunting with Jesus) have been reporting for years on how many middle American conservatives consistently vote against their own interests. Some of that has to do with the culture wars – another area where Fox News and right wing talk radio pushes all the most effective emotional buttons – and some of it has to do with overt appeals to racism, sexism, and to the wounded pride of so many middle Americans. More recently, Arlie Russell Hochschild (Strangers in Their Own Land) has written about why so many Teaparty types living in the bayous of Louisiana blame the federal government for the pollution of their local lands while giving a complete pass to the industries who do the actual polluting. And the answer seems to be that they expect the federal government to protect them even while objecting to giving them regulatory authority, and they excuse the polluters because industries are supposed to be pursuing profits to the maximum extent.
How does that make any sense? It doesn’t, of course. But that’s how twisted your thinking gets when you’ve been fed a steady stream of hateful propaganda for 25 years.
Name Calling On Our Side Doesn’t Help Either
All of the above being said, I do have to point out that name calling doesn’t help on our side either. Labeling others as racists, or misogynists or xenophobes doesn’t help much. The complaint that our language is too “politically correct” is not without merit. Particularly in something like “trigger warnings,” I think we really have sometimes taken things too far. I can definitely imagine that for poor white people to hear about “white privilege” is something they’re not going to be receptive to. Aside from race, there is also the issue of class, and there are plenty of minorities who are in economic classes where they have more privilege on balance than do poor whites.
On the other hand, there are plenty of people out there who are barely concealing their racism, misogyny or xenophobia behind the shield that they object to “politically correct” language.
It’s clear that it’s high time for us to have an honest and frank discussion on race between us all. (I had always thought that maybe President Obama could lead that discussion as part of his post-Presidential endeavors.) It’s a tricky time now, because while for many voters racial or other animus may not have been the primary motivator in their decision to vote for Donald Trump, the fact is that many racists, misogynists and xenophobes have clearly felt emboldened in the aftermath of Trump’s election, and are behaving accordingly.
The Coming Political Civil War
For the last 25 years Fox News and right wing talk radio has been teaching middle America whom to blame and whom to hate. Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, Laura Ingraham, Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck have been piling on, and especially piling on about us liberal elitists for years and years. We’re unpatriotic. We’re to blame for everything that has gone wrong in America.
The word “libtard” so beloved by conservative pundits, is of course a contraction between “liberal” and “retard.” In effect, the conservatives have been hitting us and punching us and kicking us – proverbially speaking, not yet literally – for years and years and years. Occasionally we punch back, but the traffic has been mostly one way for quite some time. The conservatives have been like Mike Tyson – who of course, turns out to be a Trump supporter – someone who is a tremendous bully and has been quite powerful, who eventually runs up against the Evander Holyfields of the world. When that happens, they have to bite his ear off.
The election of Trump is a kick in the teeth for us. It’s an intentional body blow. Using the “fuck you” candidate, much of conservative America has sent a gigantic “fuck you” to the other side of the political divide. Not all of them – as other commentators have noted, some people voted for him because they felt “seen” by him, while some thought why not try something radically different – but for many they voted for him simply because it gives them the metaphorical chance to fuck us in the ass. And they did it because they basically despise us. They despise us because we’re liberals and elitists and order café lattes at Starbucks, because we have queer friends or are queer, because we want transgendered people to be able to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity, because we’re women or feminists, because we think that black lives matter, because we can afford college, because we know what arugula is, because some of us are Jewish, because some of us fraternize with Muslims, and because many of us have passports and have been overseas. As a quick example of the conservatives’ contempt for us, consider this little Internet meme which I found on Facebook the other day. With a picture of one of the protest marches, the caption reads: “This is What Happens When You Give Children a Trophy for Losing.” Right there you get a good condensation of the Right’s contempt for us. We’re spoiled. We’re too concerned with people’s feelings. We give trophies to losers.
Contempt, as fans of John Gottman’s work on what causes people to divorce, is the most insidious of emotions, the one most associated with a marriage that is heading for an inevitable separation. As is our nation’s polity.
“Real” America wanted to get our attention, and now they’ve got it. They’ve gotten our attention in a serious way. We’re pissed, and we’re galvanizing, and we’re preparing to hit back. The right has wanted to have a political civil war with us for a long, long time. They’ve wanted to take us down a notch, or three, or ten, and now they’re going to get a chance to have what they want. They got their guy, and they’ve got our attention. Of course, if their guy turns out to be only half the disaster we all think he will be, it is really not going to be pretty. And many of his supporters are going to get hurt. Now, I’m not going to care, because at some point, if you can’t stop voting against your own interest, just like if you can’t stop drinking or sending videochats of your penis to women who are not your wife, it’s your own fault. Our side is going to have to hold their feet to the fire and make them accountable. You can vote for whomever you want. But the resulting detritus is yours. Pottery Barn rules. You break it, you own it. Don’t come crying to us when Trump burns the house down. He’s the guy you wanted.
 It was that speech, actually, that made me decide that I could vote for Obama. Before that I thought that he was simply too inexperienced, and that he should stay in the Senate another four years and learn more about how the Government functions. But that speech showed character, and character is something you can’t teach. You either have it or you don’t.
 For what it’s worth, I’m not a fan of giving “participation” trophies, and I do think that “trigger warnings” have gone too far. For reasons I’ve previously explained, I’m not sure that transgender surgery is a good thing.